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From microscopic to cosmic, New York artist puts psychedelic spin on complexity of Great Lakes

Alexis Rockman
Cascade, 2015. Oil and alkyd on wood panel, 72 x 144 inches. Commissioned by Grand Rapids Art Museum with funds provided by Peter Wege, Jim and Mary Nelson, John and Muriel Halick, Mary B. Loupee, and Karl and Patricia Betz.



He’s been widely praised for his paintings about natural history and ecological history.


Now, New York artist Alexis Rockman has turned to Michigan’s treasure — the Great Lakes.


His new show, "Alexis Rockman: The Great Lakes Cycle," opens at the Grand Rapids Art Museum on Jan. 27.


Rockman began working on the project five years ago, beginning with a research tour of the Great Lakes. 


The heart of this exhibition is a suite of five mural-sized paintings.They illustrate themes that Rockman developed while traveling around the Great Lakes, discovering their beauties and the dangers that threaten them. He joined Stateside to share the inspiration behind the exhibit.


Listen above for the full conversation, or catch highlights below.


On a call to action


"When you're dealing with an administration that appeals to our lowest common bases of wanting to be in denial about our own mortality, just basic facts of not only science but observation, here's a profound call to action," he said.


"I don't know if art can help, but I know certainly that journalism is one of the last things that can save us, and that's been proven time and again, especially in America's free press. So I consider what I do an extension of that." 


"And one of the great things that I can do as an artist is that I don't have to answer to anyone in terms of my content. I don't have a corporate overlord or a Death Star to answer to, so I'm pretty much free to say what I want, and as long as I'm responsible to history, and science, and my ideas about that, I consider myself relatively informed enough to give myself permission to tell these stories."


On what he hopes viewers will take away from the exhibit


"Hopefully they forget all their partisan meddling and think about the bigger responsibility that we have as stewards of this planet," he said, "and that there's a fascinating and beautiful resource there that needs our care and tenderness, and petty party policy lines are irrelevant to this stuff, and this stuff is forever. And people come and go, but this is our legacy."


Support for arts and culture coverage comes in part from the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs.


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